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Joe Thompson, Sr v. Chicago Park District

April 8, 2011

JOE THOMPSON, SR., PLAINTIFF,
v.
CHICAGO PARK DISTRICT, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Matthew F. Kennelly, District Judge:

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER*fn1

Joe Thompson, Sr., has sued his former employer, the Chicago Park District. He alleges that the Park District violated his rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), the Illinois Human Rights Act (IHRA), and Illinois common law. The Court previously dismissed Thompson's IHRA and common law claims [docket nos. 38, 39]. The Park District has moved for summary judgment on Thompson's ADA and ADEA claims. For the reasons below, the Court grants the motion.

Background

The Court takes the following facts from the allegations in Thompson's first amended complaint and the parties' submissions on the summary judgment motion.

Thompson began working for the Park District in 1979 as a seasonal lifeguard.

The Park District promoted Thompson to a year-round lifeguard in 1989, an hourly natatorium instructor in 1997, and, finally, a monthly natatorium instructor in 2001. In the late 1980s or early 1990s, Thompson was diagnosed as having diabetes. Due to the illness, Thompson has at times experienced blurred vision, difficulty reading, joint pain, dizziness, and fatigue.

As a monthly natatorium instructor, Thompson's primary responsibilities were to plan, organize and conduct aquatics programs at Park District beaches and pools and supervise a staff of lifeguards performing beach and pool safety activities. The Park District's description of the position states as follows:

Supervises a staff performing life guarding and aquatic programming activities at a Park District beach or pool facility. Supervises unorganized play and enforces Park District rules and regulations. Observes and corrects hazardous situations and behaviors. Uses lifesaving techniques to respond to emergency and life-threatening situations. Administers first aid and CPR. Inspects pools for cleanliness and safe operation. Notifies supervisor of the need for pool maintenance and repairs. Uses the work order system to request beach maintenance and repair. Provides instruction in strategies of aquatic team sports, individual sports and conditioning. Provides information on the rules and regulations of individual and team sports. May officiate team and individual sports. Issues equipment and supplies. Sets up recreation apparatus and equipment. Develops and maintains a positive relationship and open channel of communication with participants, parents, volunteers and the community. Assists in the coordination of aquatic special events. Maintains records and prepares routine reports. Attends and may assist in conducting workshops, in-service training seminars and employee skills assessment.

Def.'s LR 56.1 Stat., Tab B, Ex. 2. The Park District administers swim tests to monthly natatorium instructors and other aquatics employees. To pass the test, an employee must swim two hundred yards in three and a half minutes or less.

Between 1979 to 2005, Thompson took and passed the swim test every year, though he sometimes required more than one attempt. In February 2006, he failed the test. Thompson then advised Park District Manager of Beaches and Pools Janet McDonough and human resources manager Mary Saieva that he could not pass the test due to joint pain. In May 2006, the Park District received a note from Thompson's physician, Dr. Robert Stannard, requesting that Thompson be "[e]xcused from swimming test" on May 13, 2006 and expressing uncertainty "as to when he will be ready in the future." Id., Tab E, Ex. 2. Based on the note, the Park District excused Thompson from any further swim tests in 2006.

According to Thompson, he and other monthly natatorium instructors repeatedly requested permission from the Park District to swim an untimed quarter-mile in lieu of passing the swim test. The Park District refused all such requests.

In June 2006, the Park District received a letter from Dr. Stannard restricting Thompson from "certain activities of the left arm including heavy lifting, swimming or other activities requiring forced extension of the elbow" pending an orthopedic consultation. Id., Ex. 3. In early 2007, Thompson suffered an injury when he fell on some ice. After the accident, the Park District received two notes from Thompson's physicians: one indicating that Thompson "may return to work" on February 13, 2007 and the other requesting that he be "excused from [the] swim test" scheduled for that date. Id., Ex. 4. On February 16, the Park District received a letter from Dr. Stannard stating:

Mr. Thompson has been a patient in our offices for the last eighteen years and currently is suffering from multiple musculoskeletal complaints which make swimming activities very painful. Please excuse him from such activities for the foreseeable future.

Id., Ex. 5. The Park District did not allow Thompson to work after receiving the letter.

In April 2007, Thompson submitted a medical certification for leave pursuant to the Family and Medical Leave Act. The certification affirmed that Thompson was unable "to perform the functions of his[ ] position." Def.'s LR 56.1 Stat., Tab B, Ex. 5. The Park District granted Thompson twelve weeks of leave from April 7, 2007 to June 28, 2007. Near the end of the leave period, Dr. Stannard sent the Park District a letter stating:

Mr. Thompson has been a patient in our offices for the last eighteen years and currently is suffering from multiple musculoskeletal complaints with recent MRI of his left shoulder demonstrating supraspinatus tendinopathy with a probable partial tear, with possible degenerative tear of the anterior-inferior glenoid rim and degenerative changes of the AC joint. He was earlier diagnosed with a mixed polyneuropathy of the left upper extremity with element of carpal tunnel syndrome, as well as left arm epicondylitis with probable cubital tunnel syndrome. He is being followed by an orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Joseph Sheehan. I am recommending a leave of absence for Mr. Thompson for further medical evaluation and treatment. At this time I expect this leave to last one year.

Def.'s LR 56.1 Stat., Tab E, Ex. 8. Thompson also requested in writing from the Park District "a leave of absence for further evaluation and treatment" that he expected "to last for one year." Id., Ex. 9.

The Park District granted Thompson a leave of absence from June 29, 2007 through October 1, 2007 in accordance with its leave policy. The letter granting the leave informed Thompson: "In order to return to work you must bring evidence from your physician of your fitness to return to full duty. Please submit this evidence to Human Resources prior to returning." Id., Ex. 10. The letter also cautioned Thompson that he would need to request a longer leave if he was "unable to return to full duties on October 1, 2007." Id.

In September 2007, Dr. Stannard sent the Park District a letter indicating that Thompson "continue[d] to suffer from multiple musculoskeletal complaints," "a mixed polyneuropathy of the left upper extremity," "a left cubital tunnel syndrome," and "a motor neuropathy affecting his right leg." Dr. Stannard "continue[d] to recommend a leave of absence for Mr. Thompson," which he expected "to last until the spring of 2008." Id., Ex. 11.

The Park District granted Thompson another leave of absence from October 2, 2007 through April 6, 2008. The Park District again reminded Thompson that, to return to work, he would need evidence from his physician of his ability to return to full duty. The Park District also cautioned Thompson that failure to return from the leave on April ...


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